As a fan of the Homeworld universe, I’ve had my eye on this game for some time, but so far didn’t pull the trigger due to monetary pressures and mixed impressions from the early access stage. Now that the game has gone 1.0, there was no reason not to check it out, and imagine my delight when I discovered it was on Gamepass, which I just managed to snag in a three-months-for-a-buck deal. Good times.
Reviews will have you believe that the idea for this game was born after the release of Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak, which had an underlying shipbreaking theme (that’s how you got your resources in the game), but I think it goes back further than that. Almost ten years ago, the studio that was formed by devs who had worked on the Homeworld series (and would become Blackbird Interactive) teased a concept called Hardware: Shipbreakers, an RTS implied to be set in the Homeworld universe - though not officially, as the IP was in limbo at the time. Later, when the remnants of Vivendi Universal were sold off, the Homeworld IP ended up with Gearbox, who later not only allowed Blackbird Interactive to use the IP for this RTS game (which then became Deserts of Kharak), but also signed them on to develop the Homeworld Remastered Edition, and later Homeworld 3.
Hardpsace: Shipbreakers shares the art style with Homeworld, but is not actually set in the same universe. Instead, it takes place on (or rather, above) a dystopian Earth in the distant future. As the planet is plagued by climate catastrophe, the associated resource and food shortages, and the resulting civil unrest, the player takes on an opportunity to become a shipbreaker at one of the space colonies. Your job is to break apart old spaceships and reclaim as many materials as efficiently as possible. However, it becomes clear very quickly that, despite the shiny corporate veneer, the talk about ‘family’ and ‘oportunities’, you’re pretty much a slave. You owe the company well over a billion bucks for training and everything else, and by doing your work you pay off your debt.
To hammer home the point that the company owns you outright, they start you out by extracting your genetic memory so they can readily clone you in case you meet with misfortune - and in the process, you die and are replaced by your first clone. If you die during your work, you’ll wake up 30 seconds later in a new body - and of course the cost of cloning gets added to your debt.
This game is a mix between intricate first-person puzzler, delightful ‘the state of labour in late-stage capitalism’ satire, and Industrial Accident Simulator 2022. You get basic training on how to use the tools, but then you get thrown at ever more complex ship types and have to figure out how to most efficiently disassemble them. Your tools are a structural scanner, which gives you a breakdown of materials and weak points, a grapple beam which is used to pull or push objects (and can also serve to get yourself out of a pinch), and a cutting tool which can perform precision cutting as well as line cuts. As you progress through the ranks (calkled certification levels), yyou can upgrade your tools, but you will also find more hazards in ships. Those range from explosive decompression, to the entire thing catching on fire with you in it - by design. In amonst it all you also have to manage your oxygen and thruster fuel supplies, and your shifts are time-limited.
I’ve only just started dipping my toes into this game, but already I find it quite addictive. Figuring out how to disassemble the ships is way more fun than I thought - but then again I haven’t encountered severe hazards yet. The controls are sufficiently complex to give you a feeling of what things are like in zero-G, where you have to learn quickly how to accelerate as well as stop yourself, and keep track of where’s up and where’s down. Get too close to the material collectors and you get sucked in, only quick application of the grapple line can save you then. Try to push something heavier than you, and it’s you who goes flying.
I will spend some more time with this in the coming days, and report back on my experiences. Apparently there’s an underlying narrative, but I still have to see more of it.